Problem: My Friends Talk Over Each Other at Dinner Parties

Our advice columnist to the rescue

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Q: All of my friends, with the exception of a few who get obsequious now and then, disagree about my conviction that while dining at a table seating 10 or fewer, good form requires that only one guest at a time speaks. None would condone chatting during a toast. Isn’t dining a ceremony that honors self-restraint?

— J.R.
Evanston, Ill.


Dear J.R.,

It is difficult for me to answer your question, since at dinner parties I don’t listen; I just wait for my turn to speak. So I asked a superior listener, the man who owns this magazine, David Bradley, for help. David is unusually well positioned to answer this question, because he hosts 384 dinners each year at his home. Here is what he told me: “I don’t know the right protocol, but I do have a sense of what works best around tables in Washington. That is that you leave conversation unmanaged for the first course, maybe the first two. There will come a time, however, when people naturally want one-table conversation. The disappointing dinners are the ones in which the host misses that moment to convene everyone and, instead, people leave the evening without the benefit of hearing each other on the biggest topic of the hour.

“Either way, you will spend the car ride home thinking about what you should have said.”

 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/01/whats-your-problem/355749/